Social media balance: a rant, a lament, and 5 tips

Social media can be a lifeline or a noose. The question is: where do you fall on the spectrum and how can you get the most out of your social media time?

A rant: Social media is not your job.

I don’t recall if it was Chris Brogan or Seth Godin who first pointed this out, but it made me utter a vehement, “Yes!” worthy of an evangelist stage. On the “addicted” end of the spectrum, people lose sight of this truth and the grind of social media wraps itself around their necks in ever-tightening coils of updates, tweets, shares, likes, and so on.

Please stop.

I love social media as much as the next marketing geek, but I’d hate to see you get so caught up in your social media activities that you lose sight of your real work. I won’t judge you – I know how easy it is to get swept up in the endless Mardi Gras that is social media. There’s always something to share, some link to follow, some cool quip to retweet or image to repin. The problem is, all that activity is about recycling, not creating.

It’s awesome to share, and I think curation is an important part of any content marketing strategy, BUT you have to leave time and energy for your Real Work.

 

A lament: Don’t throw your hands up! 

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who avoid social media completely. If you’re one of these folks, you probably justify your absence from the social media scene by claiming technical ignorance or saying you have no time for “that sort of thing.” I hear you. I can see why you’d want to keep your distance, but – and I say this as a marketing strategist, not a social media addict – you don’t know what you’re missing! 

Social media can be scary. It can expose you more than you want to be exposed. It can be a huge time suck. It can serve up unwanted run-ins with ex lovers, bosses, and high school frenemies. BUT – it still has enormous potential to enrich your life, your network, and your business. Don’t let the negative elements that lurk on the social scene steal away the opportunities that are rightfully yours. Just be smart about how you involve yourself in these arenas.

 

5 tips for creating social media balance:

If you want to use social media for marketing, you need a plan and a process. Period. If you’re missing these, you’re not only missing the point, you’re quite likely wasting a lot of time. To get the most our of your social media investment (after all, time is money, and social definitely takes time), you need to get clear on your goals and exercise some discipline. Here are five tips to get you started.

 

Have a strategy.

Without a plan, you will never get where you’re going. A strategy helps you gain clarity about your goals and how to achieve them. It helps you make smart choices that move you forward instead of in circles. There are many moving parts to consider, but one simple social strategy method is the W5H plan: 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why) and 1 H (how). Define these for your brand, and you’ll have a solid foundation from which to build an effective social media plan.

 

Focus your efforts.

Just like you can’t be everything to everyone, you can’t be everywhere all the time. The social media landscape is vast and varied. Each week brings us shiny new objects to play with. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself spread so thin that you’re not making an impression anywhere. Stop. Step back. Take a look at your options and – using the W5H strategy – figure out which networks make the most sense for your business. Focus your efforts there. You may feel like you’re handicapping yourself by shrinking the size of your pond, but you’ll ultimately be able to make a bigger splash.

 

Create systems.

Even if you’re only swimming in a couple of networks, there is still a lot you have to do to engage at a level that will help build your audience and drive traffic. Get smart about creating systems and processes that streamline your social content creation and curation. Find tools that work for you and a routine that helps you stay in a consistent “groove.”

For example, my Twitter system looks like this:

  1. I built up a rich and robust collection of RSS feeds which I aggregate using Google Reader.
  2. Each night, as I lie next to my daughter, waiting for her to fall asleep, I scan dozens of blog posts and “star” the ones that I think I’d like to share.
  3. After my daughter falls asleep, I hit my laptop and give the posts I’ve starred a closer read.
  4. As I read through the original posts, I leave comments.
  5. Then, I load the posts I want to share into BufferApp (one of my favorite social media tools) – scheduling them to post throughout the next day.
  6. Over the course of the next day, I scan the tweets in a few focused streams that I’ve set up in Hootsuite (another favorite Twitter tool) and supplement my scheduled tweets with some “live” retweets and conversations with Twitter friends.

This system allows me to focus on the content sources that are most relevant to my business and my audience. It helps me efficiently “batch process” my reading and publishing. And, it leaves room for real time interaction. Works for me.  ;)

 

Define boundaries.

One of the biggest dangers of the social web is its power to distract. We start out with the best intentions – we’ll only spend a few minutes checking Twitter or cruising our Facebook news feed – and suddenly an hour has elapsed and we’re behind on our deadlines. Be merciless in setting and defending your social media boundaries. Be clear with yourself about which activities are beneficial. (Tip: friendly stalking and watching LOL cat videos don’t usually have strong business benefits). Set time limits – use an actual timer if you need to. Be aware of red flags that alert you to time wasters. (I steer wide of any political or religious conversations and I ignore all invites to Facebook games like Farmville and Words with Friends.)

 

Evaluate your ROI.

Last, but certainly not least, is to find a way to track – even at a very high level – your ROI, your return on investment. Calculating the ROI of social media is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. There are many “soft” benefits of social media, but those soft benefits often translate into hard, “bottom line” benefits.

Using my own experience as an example, I have enjoyed the “soft” benefit of connecting with my peers – primarily through Twitter – getting to know people, sharing war stories, and generally developing a relationship. In several cases, those online relationships have evolved into real world meetings and collaborations. In other cases they have resulted in new business via referrals. I can put a cash value on the business I’ve gained through these channels that definitely justifies the time I spend on them.

 

Social media’s potential to connect people to each other and to ideas is vast, still staggering to those of us who grew up long before Mark Zuckerberg was a twinkle in someone’s eye, never mind Facebook being a twinkle in his.  But the dark side of social media – its endless labyrinth of links – has the power to lead us slyly astray, disguised as “research” or “networking” or “relationship building.”  However, if you can harness the power of these connections and conversations without falling prey to the many pitfalls, social media can make a big difference to your business.

Do you feel like you’ve achieved social media balance? What has helped you the most? Where do you still struggle? Do you have stories of how social has helped your business? Love to hear them! 

Image Credit: Jem Yoshioka

8 Responses to “Social media balance: a rant, a lament, and 5 tips”

  1. Great tips, Jamie! I agree that you must set boundaries with time, which is easier said than done. I have so many alarms set in my iPhone that some might think it’s ridiculous but it’s the only way I don’t get carried away doing anything! Of course there’s always the snooze button…

  2. I have a similar approach to Tweets and using Buffer / Hootsuite but I guess I do this early morning after woof walking. I have to juggle time zones because a lot of my connections are in the US but I’m in Scandinavia.

    The one thing I miss here is tracking data to assess the impact of our presence on social media. I’ve been trying to develop custom reports in GetClicky and Google Analytics to see how much a tweet is really worth in terms of ROI and strategic goals. Not for the faint hearted but it’s given me insight into what works and what doesn’t and to help tweaking.

    I guess we all need space to develop, re-evaluate and move forward.

    • I agree, Jon – getting down-and-dirty and nitty-gritty about the ROI of a tweet (or any other social content) is NOT for the faint hearted. It’s something most people and businesses struggle with, but it is an important step. I don’t have all the answers for getting granular, but I think even the most basic efforts in this area can yield important insights into what works and what doesn’t.

      TKS for stopping by!
      :)

  3. Thanks for the nice reminders of how to manage social media, Jamie. I follow a similar approach as you, and after a few weeks where work/life has overwhelmed me a bit, it was refreshing to read that yes, this method does work! :)

    One question, do you use freebie BufferApp and Hootsuite?

    • Hi, Tess!
      I definitely have weeks where the work/life “balance” (ha!) gets a bit out of whack and I wind up taking an unplanned hiatus from social media, BUT … for the most part … this routine does keep me sane AND social. :)

      I do use the freebie versions of both BufferApp and Hootsuite. I may upgrade at some point, but I haven’t yet had the need (or the time to take advantage of all those additional juicy features). Maybe someday!

      Thanks for stopping by and saying, “hi!”

  4. Hear hear Jamie! Very well said.

    I have gone from loving social media, to hating it, to seeing its usefulness but still being slightly annoyed by it.

    It can get results if you do it well, so I use it, but cutting back has been great for my piece of mind and ability to concentrate.

    You’re a very good writer, in case you didn’t know!

    • Josh – I’m right there with you! I have a love/hate relationship with social media … still searching for that perfect balance! ;)

      Thanks for the compliment.

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